ARISTA Expands Volunteer Opportunities

ARISTA has expanded its tutoring services to all Manhattan students and has also introduced their Phone Angels program.

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ARISTA, the Stuyvesant honor society, is expanding its tutoring services to all Manhattan high school students. ARISTA initially offered tutoring over online video services only to Stuyvesant students during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic; now any Manhattan high school student may register to receive online tutoring. The decision was made by the ARISTA Executive Council (EC)—seniors President Mina Ivkovic, Vice President of Events Jeremy Lee, Vice President of Operations Caroline Magdolen, and Vice President of Web Development Hilary Zen—in coordination with Principal Eric Contreras and Faculty Advisor Eric Wisotsky.

The change was made due to the low number of tutoring requests from Stuyvesant students and to give ARISTA members more volunteer opportunities. Typically, ARISTA members have a credit requirement set at the beginning of the term that they must meet. Though members do not have a tutoring credit requirement this semester because of the COVID-19 pandemic, any tutoring credits earned this semester will carry over to next semester. “We wanted to make sure that our volunteers had ample opportunity to start working [toward] earning rollover credits for the next term and continue to be involved even though we’re in this very unique situation,” Magdolen said.

The EC also wished to fulfill one of ARISTA’s main purposes: serving the community. “The main goal of ARISTA is to always give back to the larger New York City community, not just within Stuy,” Ivkovic said. “I think that ARISTA students naturally are inclined to give back to the community because that’s one of our core pillars. Especially with the rollover system, they are even more incentivized to do it.”

Wisotky agreed, noting that this change helps students who might not have access to resources or tutoring. “We are expanding our tutoring services because it is just the right thing to do, especially in a time like this […] we are lucky to have the resources and academic support systems we have at Stuyvesant. The students at other high schools are part of our greater community, and we have a responsibility to serve them as well,” he said in an e-mail interview. “Ultimately, it is the responsibility of all of us to do our part to better our community through leadership and service.”

To make this transition possible, the EC has collaborated with the administration. “We’ve been coordinating with [Wisotsky] and [Contreras] to get the e-mails sent out to the principals of these high schools that we’re offering tutoring to. We’re going to be seeing how that pans out in the future, but we definitely have the administration on board with us on this and working to expand our tutoring services as much as possible,” Ivkovic said.

The expanded tutoring services can be accessed through the ARISTA website. “It’s already available on our website,” Magdolen said. “Right now we’re in the process of actually reaching out to high schools and letting them know that this is an opportunity.”

To match students who take courses not offered in Stuy, ARISTA uses a process that is different from its normal matching process. “We have an [option in which] you can select something that’s not listed, since we know that there will be classes that students [take] that aren’t necessarily at Stuy,” Magdolen said. “We will look into it with more detail, coordinate with our tutors, and see who would be willing to [tutor in that subject] without the randomized matching process.”

The EC is considering expanding ARISTA’s tutoring services to all five boroughs, should this new initiative be successful in Manhattan. “Since it’s something really new that we haven’t done before, we actually thought that it would be a better idea to just start with Manhattan since Stuy is in Manhattan,” Magdolen said. “We didn’t want to expand to all five boroughs because we might get overloaded. But that’s definitely something we’re considering doing in the future if this works out well.”

In addition to extending tutoring services to other schools in Manhattan, ARISTA has begun working on their Phone Angels project. “The ARISTA Phone Angel program connects volunteers—both ARISTA-members and non-ARISTA affiliated individuals—with senior citizens for weekly phone calls,” junior and project leader Liam Kronman said in an e-mail interview. “The phone calls are designed to bring joy to seniors during a time of crisis, whether that be through playing music or telling jokes or simply sharing a few laughs, as they are some of those most in need.”

In developing the Phone Angels program, the EC took inspiration from pre-existing programs that provide moral support to senior citizens. “A lot of these call programs have already existed before. However, [considering the current situation,] I think [this program is] particularly important because visitation has been canceled,” Lee said. “Recently we’ve partnered with one senior center, […] CommonPoint in Queens. We’ve got an initial list of about 20 volunteers who have been doing regular calls with the people living in CommonPoint.”

In order to more effectively communicate with the seniors, volunteers undergo training. “The volunteers have had meetings with the people who run CommonPoint and […] other senior centers [with which] we’ve been in contact […] and they’ve provided training on what to do in these calls and how to handle them,” Lee said.

The program has been a touching experience for not only the seniors, but also the volunteers. “I find this project very meaningful because it allows me to engage with my community and […] continue giving back, even while at home,” Kronman said. “It’s absolutely heartwarming to read about some of the volunteers’ experiences in the calling logs.”

Junior and volunteer Victoria Lieberman agreed, saying in an e-mail interview, “I know that self-isolating can feel lonely, and I want to minimize that impact in any way that I can. These phone calls are a fulfilling way to help other people.”

The EC hopes to further expand the program, as students both within and outside of ARISTA have expressed interest in participating. “We even have a volunteer from The NYC Museum School who reached out to me to participate. Perhaps in the future, we can expand the program to other schools to serve more seniors,” Wisotsky said.

Currently, the number of volunteers exceeds the number of seniors, meaning some volunteers have had to double up when calling their paired senior. Before they can implement the new volunteers, ARISTA needs to find more seniors. “I am in the process of reaching out to more senior centers and nursing homes and getting senior citizens more interested in our program,” Kronman said.

The EC hopes to continue finding ways for ARISTA to contribute to the school and city communities. “We’re still trying to figure out different ways to help out our community, but these have been the two main projects we’ve invested in, and we definitely want to expand and improve on them for the time being,” Ivkovic said. “As things progress and we learn more about the state of New York, particularly in New York City, we will continue to call the shots as the time comes.”